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United States v. Saguto

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 3, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
Michael J. Saguto Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: January 14, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.


         Michael J. Saguto, an inmate, walked off federal prison grounds in Forrest City, Arkansas, and absconded. He was apprehended and subsequently charged with escape and conspiracy to escape. Saguto conditionally pleaded guilty and now appeals, arguing that the district court[1] erred by failing to recognize a Sixth Amendment speedy trial violation, that his counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient, and that the ultimate sentence imposed upon him is substantively unreasonable. We disagree and affirm.

         I. Background

         On January 3, 2015, Saguto was in the sixth month of an 84-month sentence for conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. On that day, with the assistance of his non-incarcerated girlfriend, Andrea Mansfield, Saguto escaped from prison. Apparently, Saguto simply walked off the property when nobody was looking. Saguto and Mansfield were caught together about a day later, and he was charged with escape and conspiracy to escape.

         Twenty-two months elapsed between Saguto's indictment on January 6, 2015, and his conditional guilty plea in November 2016. Events occurring during that time span delayed Saguto's trial. Saguto and Mansfield were arraigned on February 26, 2015; trial was set for March 30, 2015. The court initially determined to try Saguto and Mansfield together. The court later severed the cases. But before the severance, Mansfield twice moved to continue trial, pushing the trial date to April 11, 2016. On February 8, 2016, the district court granted a motion by Saguto's counsel to delay the trial further to enable Saguto to receive a mental evaluation. Saguto reluctantly consented to the motion after agreeing that it could be helpful to his defense.

         On March 2, 2016, Saguto wrote a letter to the district court airing grievances regarding his representation by appointed counsel. He stated that he believed his Sixth Amendment speedy trial rights were being violated because he had not been tried yet, and he also expressed dissatisfaction with his attorney's general performance. On March 7, 2016, the district court delayed trial by granting a motion enabling the mental health services provider additional time to complete Saguto's psychiatric evaluation due to Saguto's late arrival to the facility. Because of the longer evaluation period, Saguto's counsel moved for a continuance of the trial date. The district court granted the March 31, 2016 motion and reset the trial for November 14, 2016.

         On October 20, 2016, Saguto's counsel, at Saguto's behest, filed a motion to be relieved, asserting irreconcilable differences between the two. The district court denied the motion, finding insufficient justification to change counsel just three weeks before trial. Saguto followed up with a pro se motion to appoint new counsel on October 25. In the motion, he reiterated his claim that his current counsel was violating his Sixth Amendment rights and contended that he had requested that counsel cease seeking continuances as far back as February 2016. The district court denied the pro se motion. Then, the next day, Saguto's attorney filed a motion for reconsideration on her motion to be relieved as counsel because Saguto stopped communicating with her entirely.

         With the November 14 trial date approaching, the district court held a hearing on the two pending motions on November 4, 2016. Following the hearing, the district court denied the motion for appointment of new counsel. The court found that current counsel could be effective despite differences with Saguto. The court concluded that appointment of new counsel would only delay trial further. The district court then permitted Saguto to make an oral record regarding his Sixth Amendment claims. Five days later, on November 9, 2016, Saguto conditionally pleaded guilty to the pending charges. Based on continued concerns about relations between Saguto and his counsel, in March 2017, the district court appointed new counsel for the sentencing process.

         On January 24, 2018, the district court sentenced Saguto. At the hearing, the district court adopted the presentence investigation report (PSR), which suggested a Guidelines range of 12-18 months' imprisonment. In its sentencing colloquy, the court noted the need to deter prison escapes. And after addressing all the relevant § 3553(a) factors and hearing from the parties, the district court sentenced Saguto to 36 months' imprisonment to be run consecutive to his existing term.

         II. Discussion

         Saguto makes three arguments on appeal. First, he contends that the time lapse between his indictment and guilty plea violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Second, he asserts his counsel provided constitutionally deficient representation by not raising the speedy trial issue with the district court. And finally, he argues the ...

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